Portraits Of Inspiration
Poets & Writers Magazine|January - February 2019

Seven writers with books coming out in the first months of the new year share their thoughts about creativity, the transformative power of writing, and the infinite potential of the literary imagination.

“I believe in writing through the difficulty of a truth, the ugliness of a truth. I believe it is worth asserting that we have value beyond the humiliation, hurt, oppression, and trauma we face in our lives and our skins every day.”

Why do you write?

I write in order to live; to be sane in this world; to expand my own ideas of what’s possible; for the girl inside me who did not believe she was valuable; for the woman inside me who trivializes her own pain; for all the living people, especially women of color, who feel the same way; to rail against silence and erasure; to center my own narrative; to recover history; to imagine a future; to record and witness the present; to tell the truth.

What has changed you as a writer?

Perhaps it’s the way I process or address trauma in my work. Before, I rarely wrote poems that were autobiographical or about my personal experiences—if I did, they were hidden or tucked away. Recently I began taking steps to approach the personal in a way I’ve avoided before, and I do recognize something liberating and comforting about allowing poems to carry the weight of a pain that is both deep-rooted and fresh. I am probing my wound and also acknowledging that the wound is more complex than its pain: It is a human experience, and all wounds can be seeds.

Who do you turn to when you feel like you’re losing faith?

I think of the women who have come before me, all the revolutionary women who are also my muses.

How do you challenge yourself to grow as a writer?

I challenge myself to write something that reflects the truth of how I feel in a world that always questions my right to feel it, that invalidates my experience as a woman of color. Before I can do this, I need to challenge myself to overcome internalizing how the outside world perceives me based on how I’ve been treated— that is, that my words are not valid, that my experience or my feelings do not matter. Once I conquer those voices—and I will not conquer them every day, but that’s okay—I can write.

You are a literary superhero—what is your name, your superpower, your kryptonite?

My name is Anime Wong, and my active superpower is dealing heavenly punishment to sexual assaulters and making cruel and entitled men forfeit their egos and surrender the power they so desperately hold on to. Then I take these inflated egos and deliver their power to people who need it and deserve it. My other superpower is healing heartbreak and making women of color recognize their self-worth. My kryptonite…I’m not supposed to tell you that.

— Sally Wen Mao, author of Oculus (Graywolf Press, January)

“I believe in writing as one tool to begin society’s slow crawl toward honesty with itself.”

What has changed you as a writer?

I feel charged with representing nothing in the world as small, nothing in the world as mundane. I have grown a deeper gratitude for the idea of production that isn’t entirely based on what I put on the page and more on how I honor the moments of living off the page. All of those things make a return to writing less daunting for me, more full of possibility.

What does a perfect writing day feel like to you?

It doesn’t always involve writing. Sometimes it’s a trip to the movies in the middle of the day or a run to the market, where a familiar face might pass me, or a walk to the gym, where I see the older dogs who don’t wish for much other than the hand of a passerby to graze over their heads as they slowly and indifferently meander through the grass. All of those things represent a type of writing.

Who do you turn to when you feel like you’re losing faith?

I’m finding faith in writers who at least attempt to engage with a complicated honesty. I’m into writers who ask and answer with confidence, fully understanding that none of us really know shit.

What do you think of when you find yourself avoiding the page?

I think of the fact that I come from a people who at one point were jailed or beaten or killed for the act of writing. That doesn’t always send me sprinting back to the page, but it makes clear for me what the stakes are and how privileged I am.

What would you say to the ten-year-old you?

Your living will remain impossible to believe.

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